Croatian women show the middle finger to abortion remarks

Former President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Former President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic joined other women in using the gesture

Croatian politicians were left in no doubt about the strength of feeling on the subject of abortion in the country, after remarks in pre-election debates prompted a backlash visualised by perhaps the most defiant gestures of all - the middle finger.

Miroslav Skoro of the Homeland Movement and Goran Jandrokovic of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union, both right-of-centre political forces, agreed on the issue in a TV programme ahead of the parliamentary election in July.

"In my opinion life begins at conception and should be protected", Mr Jandrokovic said, arguing that "we should work on education to reduce abortions to the smallest possible number".

Mr Skoro, a well-known singer who positioned himself as a "people's person" in the presidential election in 2019, added: "We are not a primitive society, no ban is needed, but we need to do everything we can to preserve life. If a woman gets pregnant after rape, she must discuss with her family what to do."

In another TV debate, independent candidate Nino Raspudic went further in his pro-life arguments, suggesting that testimonies of children conceived through wartime rape in Bosnia and Herzegovina "showed that they managed to find realisation as happy persons".

Digital salute

The reaction was swift and took the form of a body-language salute by many prominent women, supported by men, to convey the offence caused.

Among the first to post an image of herself and her middle finger was the deputy mayor of the Croatian town of Osijek, Zana Gamos.

"My dear, here is a lady's response to the gentlemanly thinking of geniuses who have advice about what a raped woman should do. Go get some advice!", she posted on Facebook along with #mistressofmyownbody.

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Croatia country profile

Former President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic also used the gesture to express her feelings: "I am joining all the women who are showing their stance with this 'impolite' gesture and raising their voice against those trying to take us back centuries. The times when a woman sat in the corner and waited for what the 'guy' would say are well and truly gone."

Ms Grabar-Kitarovic explained that she has always been pro-life, as long as there is a choice "without pressure, stigma and conditions, especially in the most sensitive life situations such as rape".

Actress Bojana Gregoric Vejzovic made her point by using a photo from 2000 of her showing the middle finger along with this sarcastic comment: "#2000 Same attitude! Women, let us take part in the elections while we still can!"

Hitting back at comments on this "un-ladylike behaviour", she said: "The photo is 20 years old and the context is political. Read between the lines. Soon they will maybe tell us what we can and cannot do or wear, where we must not be… you get the picture."

Law on abortion still debated

Abortion is legal in Croatia but there are fears it is becoming less available under pressure from the Catholic Church and activists.

After the Constitutional Court gave the government a two-year deadline in 2017 to draft a bill outlining new regulations on the right to abortion, as the current law drawn up in former Yugoslavia has been in force since 1978, the bill is still being debated in parliament.

Recommendations by a working group which looked at the legal framework in other EU countries include safeguarding a woman's right to abortion, possibly increasing the deadline for termination from the current 10 weeks to 12 weeks, and enshrining the conscientious objection in law.

The abortion rate in Croatia has fallen considerably, from over 25,000 in 1993 to 2,558 in 2018, something that has prompted concerns about the erosion of women's rights.

Reporting by Vesna Stancic

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